Not a “woman’s issue”

#IWD2022

Account Manager Celia Lopez addresses the “Confidence Culture” phenomenon in search of an answer – self‑confidence or selfdeception?

When I first offered to write an opinion piece for International Women’s Day (IWD), I did not expect to find myself so lost on what I truly wanted to say. I spent an entire hour writing then deleting my thoughts, overthinking each word, with looming questions: “Am I being too personal?”, “Should I sound more formal?”, “What is the point that I am struggling to make?”, “Will our clients want to read any of this?”. After some contemplation, I realised this is a reoccurring theme in my life. Self‑doubt.

Celia Lopez
Celia Lopez questions the validity of “Confidence Culture”.

I remembered countless conversations I’d had in the past, over a bottle of wine, where so many women that I admire confessed to having insecurities and symptoms of the all too well‑known imposter syndrome. It is ironic to think that this is the reality of so many talented, independent women. Yet everywhere we look, there seems to be a broader cultural trend that urges women to be more self‑assured.

Since when did self‑confidence become an obligation? Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree on the obvious good of supporting and empowering women. What I don’t understand is why self‑confidence is presented as the ultimate solution to an extensive (almost endless) list of structural and systemic issues which are beyond our control? Just as we have seen on the topic of women’s safety, we are yet again, being tasked with fixing an external aggressor by adjusting our personal behaviour.

Researching the trend, I became aware of just how many working schemes are being promoted on LinkedIn offering “confidence” training programmes with women pictured on the thumbnail. Moreover, I saw corporate communications encouraging women to “own their voice”, and motivational coaches, pop culture and lifestyle media inciting women to build self‑assurance with clichés such as “believe in yourself and you will achieve”. But what exactly will we achieve? In my opinion, it is always about the how, not the what.

We want to feel empowered – no need to question that – but we will only achieve it as a result of real, systemic change: redesigning modern workplaces, eliminating gender data gaps, recognising and supporting women’s health issues and, for once, actually addressing the problem for what it is.

Easier said than done, I am aware. How do we make big, global businesses reconsider their entire value chains to attain a more holistic and inclusive approach? The WBA’s Gender Benchmark 2021 Report revealed that poor data visibility is a major issue across the private sector. The report evaluated how 35 different apparel companies address gender equality as part of their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Data shows that 97% of the assessed companies chose to withhold the proportion of women in senior and leadership roles, regardless of the fact that these figures are required by most regulatory commissions for publicly listed companies. So, how can we solve the underlying problems of gender inequality, when we don’t even have the data that identifies the extent of those problems?

If data fails to consider gender, and data shapes our reality – are women being purposely excluded from the way the world has been designed? For me, the answer is yes.

Gender-blindness, or in other words, the failure to recognise the historical and biological differences between genders, does not only perpetuate gender inequalities, but also threatens women’s safety. According to a study conducted by Leeds University researchers, women in the UK are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed after experiencing a heart attack (Source: University of Leeds, 2016). The findings are not so shocking when you find out that among cardiovascular trials, men still predominate over women. Gender blindness has impregnated every aspect of our life, and workplaces are no exception to the rule. Whilst chronic illness and disability are covered by employment rights and therefore safeguarded in the workplace, women’s health‑related issues are still, at best, an afterthought. Approximately 13 million people in the UK are currently experiencing peri or post‑menopausal symptoms (Source: Menopause Support). Yet even though menopause affects half of the population, there is very little legislation that protects and supports the career development of people during menopause.

So, why are women expected to be more confident, and how can one simple word be portrayed as the cure to all our problems? Why is it that when a male client does not take us seriously enough or when superficial interactions on dating apps don’t to work out, it all comes down to our confidence levels? Sociologists Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill have shed light on the phenomenon of blaming the individual rather than the real societal issues. Their latest book exposes how “Confidence Culture” aims to shadow complex political, economic and structural problems by making women believe that confidence is the only narrative that leads to empowerment.

I know this article provides more questions than answers, but it might be a good place to start. For me the message is very clear:

It has never been about women’s lack of self-esteem – we are speaking about a deeply ingrained gender bias that not only undervalues women and puts them in danger, but also makes them feel guilty for it.

Confidence culture has taken over everything we are exposed to – even the brands we follow keep preaching for self‑confidence, while most of them don’t stock above a size 14 – and in parallel, society still seems to have a lack of knowledge concerning women’s real problems. In case we didn’t have enough on our plate, we are now dealing with the internalised blame of not being confident enough.

My conclusion is: being a woman is exhausting. And I could keep on arguing why, until you gave up reading. If you have got this far, my call to action is this: if you work in a big or small corporation, media outlet or governmental body, instead of using your budget on confidence training or a performative marketing campaign, why don’t you invest it in organisations and resource groups that truly support women? It’s 2022. Businesses and corporations need to stop hiding behind a facade of progress by just adding their logo to a social media post supporting IWD.

Hopefully, one day, when corporate bodies treat gender equity, diversity and inclusion as priorities in their agenda, the system will start to change. And maybe then, our confidence will follow.

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